Don Luís de Velasco / Paquiquineo (fl. 1561–1571)


Paquiquineo, later Don Luís de Velasco, was a Virginia Indian who encountered Spanish explorers on the Chesapeake Bay in 1561 and returned to Spain with them, either voluntarily or as a captive. There, he appeared before King Philip II and was granted permission to lead a Catholic mission back to the Chesapeake, a land the Spaniards believed the Indians called Ajacán. A brief stop in Mexico City turned into a years-long stay after Paquiquineo became ill. During that time he converted to Christianity, taking the name of the viceroy of New Spain (present-day Mexico), Don Luís de Velasco. After two failed attempts to return home with Dominican missionaries, Don Luís sailed again to Spain, where he joined a group of Jesuit priests, and finally landed on the James River in September 1570—more than nine years after he had left. He initially aided the Jesuits, but quickly reunited with his family and, in February 1571, led an ambush that killed the missionaries save for an altar boy, Alonso de Olmos. While contemporary Spanish chroniclers demonized Paquiquineo, at least one modern scholar has suggested that the violence may have been a symbolic and predictable reaction to violations of the Indians’ gift-exchange economy. In 1572 the Spanish dispatched soldiers to Ajacán. They hanged a handful of Indians but did not find Paquiquineo, who subsequently disappeared from history. Based on Jamestown-era rumors, some historians have argued that Paquiquineo and Opechancanough were the same person.

Encounters the Spanish

Nothing is known of Paquiquineo’s life prior to late June 1561, when he and a companion encountered the Spanish caravel Santa Catalina. The ship’s captain, Antonio Velázquez, had been running supplies from a Spanish settlement at Polanco (present-day Pensacola, Florida) to another settlement at the Point of Santa Elena (near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina) when a storm blew him north and into the Chesapeake Bay. He and his crew were probably in search of fresh water when they spied two Indians on shore. Historians have variously suggested that Paquiquineo hailed from a Paspahegh, Chiskiack, or Kecoughtan family, but most seem to agree that he was a boy or young man at the time.

Spanish chroniclers and subsequent historians have provided conflicting versions of Paquiquineo’s encounter with the Europeans. The Relation of Bartolomé Martínez, written by a minor Spanish official and dated October 24, 1610, claims that Paquiquineo met the Spanish with his father, the chief. The Spanish captain (whom Martínez misidentified as Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the founder of Saint Augustine) first “regaled” the Indians with gifts of food and clothing, and then asked the chief for permission to take Paquiquineo to meet the king of Spain. The chief assented. While many historians have broadly accepted this version of events, others have argued that it is more likely that Paquiquineo was kidnapped. Spanish captains regularly captured boys and young men to serve as interpreters. In fact, Velázquez had two such men—Indians from New Spain—on board when he met Paquiquineo. The historian Camilla Townsend has noted a source in which a “Spaniard gave the game away, indicating that the young men [Paquiquineo and his companion] had said their families would have no way of knowing what had happened to them.”

Excerpt from a Letter Justifying Expenses (September 1561)

Whatever the circumstances of the encounter, the Spaniards came to believe that Paquiquineo was an important person. Perhaps for this reason Velázquez sailed to Europe with him rather than return to the Caribbean. He landed in Lagos, Portugal, and traveled with the two Virginia Indians overland to Seville, Spain, arriving on September 9, 1561. There he filed a request at the House of Trade for fifty ducats to purchase formal clothing for Paquiquineo, whom he referred to as the “princely person.” In his report, the bureaucrat carefully spelled out Paquiquineo’s name.

Velázquez intended to present Paquiquineo at the court of Philip II, and by the end of October he had transported the Indian to the king’s new capital, Madrid. Paquiquineo’s arrival came a decade after the famous debate between the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas and the Franciscan theologian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Las Casas argued that American Indians, being rational animals, should be converted to Christianity by peaceful means; Sepúlveda countered that they could only be warred upon. By 1561, the Dominicans had largely prevailed, and Philip ordered that Paquiquineo—who up to this point had resisted conversion—join a Dominican mission back to his homeland, which the Spanish believed Paquiquineo called Ajacán (likely pronounced Ah-zha-KAHN).

Two Failed Missions

After spending the winter in Spain, Paquiquineo and his companion sailed from Cádiz at the end of May 1562, their ship part of a fleet captained by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The plan was to make a brief stop in New Spain before departing for Ajacán with the Dominicans. They arrived at San Juan de Ulúa, near Veracruz, on August 10. Soon after that they visited the capital at Mexico City, where Paquiquineo and his companion both became ill. Only on the brink of death did they consent to baptism, at which point, according to the Dominican provincial, “our lord was moved to give them back their health.” Now a Christian, Paquiquineo took the name Don Luís de Velasco, after the viceroy of New Spain.

Spanish authorities had authorized a ship on its way to Spain to drop off the Dominicans at the Chesapeake Bay, but because of the Indians’ illness they missed their boat. When Don Luís and his companion sought passage home some other way, the Dominican provincial, Father Pedro de la Feria, asked his superiors to force them to remain: “if they were to return to their rites and idolatries, and thus lose their souls,” wrote Feria in 1563 to the king, “their baptism would have caused them to be damned.”

La Florida

In the same letter, dated February 13, 1563, Feria proposed a new mission to Ajacán to be led by Captain Velázquez of the Santa Catalina, who would be accompanied by fifty soldiers and two priests. But the king refused him, having already authorized another expedition to the Chesapeake, one that eventually failed even to depart the Caribbean. Not until October 1565 did a new opportunity arise. By then Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was adelantado, or governor, of the Spanish province of La Florida, an area that stretched from the Delaware Bay in the north to Mexico’s Pánuco River in the south, and included much of the present-day American Southeast, Texas, and parts of northern Mexico. After founding Saint Augustine (in present-day Florida) and wiping out a nearby French garrison at Fort Caroline, Menéndez de Avilés proposed that the Spaniards exploit their victory by sailing north. First, they should secure the Point of Santa Elena and then build a fort on the Chesapeake Bay, “which is the land of the Indians who are in Mexico.” For forty years the Spanish government had suspected that the Chesapeake Bay might promise the rich natural resources that points to the south had so far failed to yield. In addition, Menéndez de Avilés hoped to find in this area a shortcut to either the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Menéndez de Avilés summoned Don Luís and two Dominican friars to Havana, Cuba. (Don Luís was living at the Santo Domingo convent in Mexico City, despite having been encouraged to return to Spain. Meanwhile, his companion had disappeared from Spanish records.) Then, on August 1, 1566, the adelantado placed Ensign Pedro de Coronas in command of La Trinidad, its crew, fifteen soldiers, three bureaucrats, and Don Luís. Fathers Pablo de San Pedro and Juan de Acuña were assigned to govern the colony. They all sailed for Ajacán the next day. On August 14, while just north of the Chesapeake Bay, probably in present-day Chincoteague Bay, Maryland, La Trinidad encountered a fierce storm that blew the ship out to sea. Ten days later, the Spaniards anchored off the coast of present-day North Carolina; the next day they landed and claimed the area for Spain. Some time after that the ship again sailed north, searching for Don Luís’s homeland. While anchored once more at Chincoteague Bay, another storm hit, and on September 6 the ship’s pilot ruled that La Trinidad would sail east to Spain rather than return to the Caribbean.

Once the expedition landed in Cádiz, on October 23, the recriminations began. Ensign Coronas blamed Don Luís, writing in his report that the Indian was unable to recognize the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The ship’s pilot blamed the weather, while those close to Pedro Menéndez de Avilés blamed the Dominicans. Menéndez de Avilés’s brother-in-law, Gonzalo Solís de Merás, wrote that while Don Luís was “crafty,” “a good Christian,” and intelligent, the Dominican fathers were exhausted by the “hunger, hardships and danger in Florida.” For this reason they conspired with the crew of La Trinidad, including the pilot, to bypass the bay and then blame their failure on the weather. Some modern historians have argued that Don Luís may have chosen not to identify Ajacán in order to thwart the Spanish military men who accompanied the mission.

Return to Ajacán

Don Luís spent the next four years studying in Seville with Jesuits. In the meantime, the Jesuit leader in La Florida, Father Juan Baptista de Segura, planned a new mission to the Chesapeake Bay. Although he had described La Florida as “one long pile of sand” and the Indians who lived there as “beasts,” he nevertheless erred on the side of Bartolomé de las Casas: the Indians could and should be converted only through peaceful means. Menéndez de Avilés, still intent on establishing a Spanish presence north of Santa Elena, approved a nonmilitary mission. Sometime in the middle of 1570 Don Luís arrived in Havana.

When he arrived, Segura’s missionaries were bickering with one another and with Menéndez de Avilés. At some point, Father Antonio Sedeño called for Segura’s removal, while Menéndez de Avilés tried to insist on 100 soldiers for protection. He failed, and when the missionaries sailed from Havana at the end of July, their members consisted only of religious men, and relatively inexperienced ones at that. In addition to Segura and Sedeño, there were Fathers Juan Rogel and Luís de Quirós; Brothers Gabriel Gómez, Sancho de Zaballos, and Pedro Mingot de Linares; and three lay catechists: Cristóbal Redondo, Juan Baptista Méndez, and Gabriel de Solís.

On August 5, 1570, the missionaries anchored at Santa Elena, and a Jesuit living there, Brother Juan de la Carrera, argued that they should not be traveling without military protection. Segura responded that Don Luís had promised that Ajacán, like India and Japan, boasted a large population of potential converts. Writing in 1600, with the benefit of hindsight, Carrera recalled his thoughts about Don Luís: “The Indian did not satisfy me, and judging by what he had told me, I saw that he was a liar.” Fathers Rogel and Sedeño decided to stay behind, while a teenager, Alonso de Olmos, joined the mission as an altar boy and a woodsman.

The missionaries arrived on September 10 to a warm welcome from Don Luís’s people. In a letter to a Spanish official in Cuba, Quirós wrote that the Indians “seemed to think that Don Luis had risen from the dead and come down from heaven,” and they begged the missionaries to stay. Numbering fewer than the missionaries had expected, the Indians were perhaps desperate, Quirós wrote, because for six years they had been living in drought conditions and suffering from widespread famine. And yet they still seemed willing to “give to us from their poverty”—at least until what Quirós described as “a bit of blundering” changed the dynamic between the two groups.

The anthropologist Seth Mallios has argued that the Algonquian-speaking Indians in the area participated in a gift-exchange economy, meaning that instead of trading goods of equal value, they gave gifts. In return, the gift-givers did not receive goods but debts, or the unspoken promise of future gifts. Quirós notes that when the Spaniards (unknowingly) violated this protocol by attempting to trade, the Indians followed their lead. They shifted forms of exchange, from a something-for-nothing exchange to something-for-something, and demanded “trinkets” in return for their generosity. This, in turn, upset the Jesuit plan of bestowing gifts only on those Indians they hoped to convert to Christianity (i.e., Don Luís’s tribe). Mallios points out that the Jesuits later engaged in trade with groups outside of Don Luís’s tribe, inadvertently insulting their hosts and leading to the violence that followed.

The Mission Ends

C: Smith taketh the King of Pamaunkee prisoner

The Jesuits established their mission on a site some distance from where they landed, leading scholars to speculate that Don Luís may have directed them to a spot where, already short of food, they might demand support from a different tribe. Whatever the case, the missionaries used lumber and nails brought from Cuba to build two small structures: a house of at least two rooms and a chapel. Don Luís, meanwhile, appears to have left the missionaries soon after arriving home. According to a letter written in 1572 by Father Juan Rogel, one of the priests who stayed behind in Santa Elena, Don Luís “did not sleep in their hut more than two nights nor stay in the village where the Fathers made their settlement for more than five days. Finally he was living with his brothers a journey of a day and a half away.” Later Rogel charged that Don Luís “fell into evil ways” and “took up with women.” From the Indians’ perspective, he likely exchanged his Spanish identity for his Indian one, readopting his name and the various customs—including that of marriage—that accompanied it.

Paquiquineo remained with his family through the winter and did not respond to two messages from Father Segura asking for assistance in securing food and in communicating with the Indians. “They got along as best they could,” Rogel later wrote, “going to other villages to barter for maize with copper and tin, until the beginning of February.” The anthropologist Mallios identifies this trading as what may have so profoundly insulted Paquiquineo and his people.

Another anthropologist, Helen C. Rountree, makes a different argument. She notes that Paquiquineo came from a shame culture, or one in which harsh public ridicule motivates members to conform. If the Virginia Algonquian-speakers were like the better-recorded Eastern Woodland peoples, then they were equally anxious to avoid being the subjects of such ridicule. As such, Paquiquineo found himself in an untenable position. If he did what the Jesuits wanted, he would be taunted for acting the servant to negligible, if starving, foreigners. But if he ignored their pleas, he would bear the guilt of knowing he had brought them to Ajacán only to let them die a slow death. He might even endure additional ridicule for breaking his word to them.

In February 1571, Segura sent Father Quirós and Brothers Gabriel de Solís and Juan Baptista Méndez to meet with Paquiquineo. On February 4, Paquiquineo killed the three Jesuits and then traveled to the mission, where he and his companions surrounded the house and killed Segura and the remaining Spaniards, leaving only Alonso de Olmos. (Sources disagree as to whether Olmos actually witnessed the killings.) Rogel, who later interviewed Olmos, wrote that Paquiquineo greeted Segura: “Raising his club and giving his greeting were really one gesture, and so in wishing him well, he killed him.” Accounts by Juan de la Carrera and Bartolomé Martínez both suggest that Paquiquineo and his men killed the Jesuits with the Spaniards’ own axes. If these were axes the Jesuits attempted to trade with other tribes, then Paquiquineo, according to Mallios, used the weapons as symbols of his grievance.

After a relief ship found no trace of the Jesuits, the Spanish governor sent a military expedition to the James River in August 1572. Some of Paquiquineo’s people were captured in a skirmish, and several of them were found guilty of the Jesuits’ murder and hanged from the ship’s yardarms. (One of the Indians wore a paten, or Eucharist dish, around his neck.) In a bid for clemency, the Indians returned Olmos, but the man the Spaniards had known as Don Luís was nowhere to be found.


Paquiquineo disappeared from European records and is not mentioned in any verifiable oral tradition taken from the Virginia Indians by the Jamestown colonists. There were, however, two somewhat garbled rumors among the colonists that may have referred to him. In 1615, the settler Ralph Hamor wrote of “the Spaniards, whose name is odious amongst [the Chickahominy]—for Powhatan’s father was driven by them from the West Indies into those parts.” This may have been a reference to Don Luís, but he likely was not a Chickahominy Indian, and he was a contemporary of the paramount chief Powhatan and not Powhatan’s father.

In his History and Present State of Virginia (1705), Robert Beverley Jr. wrote that the Indians claimed that Powhatan’s brother or close relative, Opechancanough, “was a prince of a foreign nation, and came to them a great way from the south-west: and by their accounts, we suppose him to have come from the Spanish Indians, somewhere near Mexico, or the mines of St. Barbe.” The Virginia Indians may have said this in an attempt to disavow their association with Opechancanough, whose memory was still detested by the English due to attacks on English settlements he led in 1622 and 1644.

The idea that Opechancanough had Spanish origins, meanwhile, took hold among some scholars. In his book Jamestown: 1544–1699 (1981), the historian Carl Bridenbaugh popularized the notion that Paquiquineo and Opechancanough were the same person. His theory complemented the widespread belief, established by John Smith in 1624, that Opechancanough had always been hostile to the English, from their landing at Jamestown in 1607 until the chief’s death in 1646. Now Bridenbaugh provided an explanation: Opechancanough understood that Europeans could not be trusted because, as Don Luís, he had seen firsthand what they had done to the Indians in New Spain and what they intended to do in Ajacán.

However, the anthropologist Helen Rountree has countered that there is no documentary proof that Don Luís and Opechancanough were the same person, and available evidence suggests that they were not. True, their life spans overlapped and their names—Paquiquineo, recorded by the Spanish, and Opechancanough, recorded by the English—were similar. But even if their names had been identical, according to Rountree, it was not unknown among the Virginia Indians for two people to have the same name. She further argues that Paquiquineo hailed from the mouth of either the Chickahominy or the James river, while Opechancanough came from near the fall line—territories that in 1570 were not yet politically united under Powhatan. Finally, taking note of some claims that Paquiquineo was a chief, Rountree notes that the title was inherited through the mother. If both Paquiquineo and Opechancanough were chiefs, and if their mothers came from different places, then the two men must have been different people.

It is not known what happened to Paquiquineo, but his legacy has been an important one. For half a century, the Spanish explored the Atlantic coast of La Florida looking for a spot that might produce valuable natural resources and a shortcut to the East Indies and to China. They suspected that the Chesapeake Bay was such a place, and if the Jesuit mission had succeeded, the Spaniards might have planted a colony there, more than thirty years prior to the English landing at Jamestown. “The idea is an intriguing one,” the historian Charlotte M. Gradie has written, “for the Jesuit failure to establish a mission in Virginia was a turning point in the history of Spain’s American empire as well as in Jesuit history: Virginia was left to the English, and the Jesuits built their great missions elsewhere.”

Late June 1561
Two Virginia Indians—Paquiquineo and his companion—encounter the Spanish caravel Santa Catalina somewhere near where the James River empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The two Indians either volunteer to go with the Spanish or are kidnapped.
September 9, 1561
After landing in Lagos, Portugal, a party of Spaniards that includes a Virginia Indian named Paquiquineo and another unnamed Indian, arrives in Seville, Spain.
Late May 1562
Paquiquineo and another, unnamed Virginia Indian sail from Cádiz, Spain, their ship part of a fleet captained by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. They are bound for New Spain (present-day Mexico), where they will make a brief stop before Paquiquineo joins a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay.
August 10, 1562
After sailing from Spain, Paquiquineo and his Spanish companions arrive in San Juan de Ulúa, New Spain (present-day Mexico). They intend to stop only briefly in Mexico City before embarking on a mission to the Chesapeake Bay, but Paquiquineo falls seriously ill. He is baptized in Mexico City and takes the name Don Luís de Velasco.
February 13, 1563
Father Pedro de la Feria, provincial of the Dominican convent Santo Domingo in Mexico City, writes to King Philip II requesting that the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo remain with him. He also proposes a new mission to the Chesapeake Bay.
October 15, 1565
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, governor of the Spanish province of La Florida (present-day Florida), writes to King Philip II proposing that the Spanish take the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo on a mission to the Chesapeake Bay, where the Spanish should build a fort.
August 1, 1566
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, governor of the Spanish province of La Florida (present-day Florida), places Ensign Pedro de Coronas in command of La Trinidad, its crew, and fifteen soldiers.
August 2, 1566
The Spanish ship La Trinidad, carrying a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay, along with the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo, sails from Havana, Cuba.
August 14, 1566
The Spanish ship La Trinidad, carrying a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay, along with the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo, encounters a storm off the coast of present-day Maryland.
August 24, 1566
The Spanish ship La Trinidad, carrying a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay, along with the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo, anchors off the coast of present-day North Carolina.
August 25, 1566
The Spanish ship La Trinidad, carrying a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay, along with the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo, claims the coast of present-day North Carolina for Spain.
September 6, 1566
The Spanish ship La Trinidad, carrying a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay, along with the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo, abandons its search for the Chesapeake Bay and sails for Spain.
October 23, 1566
The Spanish ship La Trinidad, carrying a Dominican mission to the Chesapeake Bay, along with the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo, having failed to find the Chesapeake Bay, arrives at Cádiz, Spain.
Late July 1570
A Jesuit mission led by Father Juan Baptista de Segura that includes the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo sails from Havana, Cuba, bound for the Chesapeake Bay.
August 5, 1570
A Jesuit mission bound for the Chesapeake Bay led by Father Juan Baptista de Segura that includes the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo lands at the Spanish settlement of Santa Elena, near present-day Parris Island, South Carolina.
September 10, 1570
A Jesuit mission led by Father Juan Baptista de Segura and including the Virginia Indian Don Luís/Paquiquineo lands near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
September 12, 1570
In a letter written from their settlement somewhere near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Spanish Jesuit Fathers Luis de Quirós and Juan Baptista de Segura write to Juan de Hinistrosa about their mission to the Virginia Indians.
February 4, 1571
The Virginia Indian Paquiquineo kills three Jesuit missionaries who have traveled to his village to meet with him. Paquiquineo and a group of warriors then travel to the mission site and kill the remaining missionaries save for the altar boy, Alonso de Olmos.
Spring 1571
A Spanish ship arrives in the Chesapeake Bay to resupply a Jesuit mission there and finds that the priests have been killed. A skirmish leads to the capture of two Indians, one of whom explains that Paquiquineo (once Don Luís), a Virginia Indian who had belonged to the mission, ordered the attack.
August 1572
A Spanish military expedition enters the James River attempting to rescue the Spanish boy Alonso de Olmos and capture the Virginia Indian Paquiquineo (formerly Don Luís), who had ordered a group of Jesuits killed. Olmos is found but not Paquiquineo.
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  • Lewis, Clifford M., and Albert J. Loomie. The Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia, 1570–1572. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.
  • Mallios, Seth. The Deadly Politics of Giving: Exchange and Violence at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006.
  • Marotti, Frank. Jr. “Juan Baptista de Segura and the Failure of the Florida Jesuit Mission, 1566–1572.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 63, no. 3 (January 1985): 267–279.
  • Townsend, Camilla. “Mutual Appraisals: The Shifting Paradigms of the English, Spanish, and Powhatans in Tsenacomoco, 1560–1622.” In Early Modern Virginia: Reconsidering the Old Dominion, 57–89. Douglas Bradburn and John C. Coombs, eds. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.
  • Townsend, Camilla, ed. American Indian History: A Documentary Reader. Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
APA Citation:
Wolfe, Brendan. Don Luís de Velasco / Paquiquineo (fl. 1561–1571). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/don-luis-de-velasco-paquiquineo-fl-1561-1571.
MLA Citation:
Wolfe, Brendan. "Don Luís de Velasco / Paquiquineo (fl. 1561–1571)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 29 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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